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[ 116 ] January 27, 2017 |

By Sarah Ewart – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

I wish to dissent in part from my distinguished colleague, but only in part.

  • The norm of offering a degree of deference to executive cabinet nominations is a good norm.  It helps to ensure that governmental agencies will function normally even during periods of mixed government.
  • “Degree of deference” includes the option to fight hard against particularly problematic nominees.
  • The Republicans have largely held to this norm with respect to cabinet nominations, both in the minority and the majority (Ash Carter was confirmed 93-5 in February 2015).
  • The Republicans have demonstrated that it is possible to conform to this norm (as they did in 2009), while also pursuing a broader strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism.

Largely because of this, I am unmoved by arguments that votes for Trump cabinet nominations represent “capitulation,” or that they portend a future of Democratic surrender. For Senate Democrats these are wholly symbolic votes, but they offer multiple symbolic meanings; on the one hand, opposition to Trump, and on the other a commitment to the normal continuation of government. Both of these are important.

That said, I certainly agree that there are specific nominees who should engender more scrutiny and opposition from the Democrats.  I would target both Sessions (on general ideological grounds) and Devos (on grounds of utter incompetence, as well as ideology). And if the Democrats were in a position to block either nominee, I would concur with Erik’s formulation; a defector voting for Sessions or Devos should be presumed to draw a primary challenge with substantial support from the DSCC, national-level funding should be steered away from the defector, and the defector should suffer consequences in committee assignments.

But for a vote against Jeff Sessions that has purely symbolic consequences?  I can’t motivate myself to much enthusiasm for vigorous, costly counter-measures.  And in more general terms, I would caution against concluding, based on evidence of cabinet nomination votes, that the Democrats as a whole or in particular are likely to “surrender” or “capitulate” on substantive legislative matters.


Ballistic Missiles, and the Missile Defenses that Love Them

[ 26 ] January 27, 2017 |

Standard Missile III SM-3 RIM-161 test launch. By U.S. Navy Public Domain.

Interesting new work out there on missile defense:

How has missile defense technology, considered globally, developed over the past four decades? A recent book, co-edited by Catherine Kelleher and Peter Dombrowski, traces the development and current status of missile defense projects around the world. Reviewed here by Pavel Podvig, Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective offers accounts of the modern (since the 1980s) history of missile defense, and frames extant missile defense (and counter-missile defense) programs in regional context.

Next Step in the SCS

[ 20 ] January 26, 2017 |
Type 052C destroyer (Luyang II-class).JPG

PLAN Type 52C Destroyer Haikou. By U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery – Public Domain.


Some thoughts on the US Navy in the South China Sea:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s South China Sea comments during his confirmation hearings raised more than a few eyebrows. Tillerson seemed to suggest a blockade of newly constructed military installations in the SCS, an action that could, at the extreme, be seen as an act of war. Some attempted to explain away Tillerson’s comments as uninformed, or the result of a long day testifying before Congress. At Lawfare, however, international maritime law specialist James Kraska argued that Tillerson’s proposals had a strong foundation in maritime practice and might well represent good policy.


My Campaign for SECAF Has Ground to an Ignominious End

[ 39 ] January 23, 2017 |

above, aerial, aerial archives, aerialarchives, aerial view, aerial views, aerial, aerial photography, aerials, highway 10, I-10, interstate 10, southwest, southwestern USA, transport, transportation, travel, traveling, travelling,

With his choice for Secretary of Air Force, Donald Trump had yet another opportunity to fill a cabinet position with someone who a) would be hopelessly overwhelmed by the job, and b) believed that the agency in question should be abolished. But instead of hiring me, he went with someone merely likely to be incompetent:

For shame, President Trump. With respect to Wilson’s actual credentials, she’s not that far off the norm for such positions- long-term connections with Air Force, service in Congress, some high-level national security policymaking experience- but she has  less experience at the Pentagon and in industry than the last few individuals to fill the job.

On Manning

[ 238 ] January 17, 2017 |
Zhigongtu full.jpg

Portraits of Periodical Offering, a 6th-century Chinese painting portraying various emissaries; ambassadors depicted in the painting ranging from those of Hephthalites, Persia to Langkasuka, Baekje(part of the modern Korea), Qiuci, and Wo (Japan).


Stepped Pyramids frames it well:

A state cannot have secrets without having classes of people who are entrusted with secrets, and it cannot maintain that trust without enacting penalties for violating it. I object to the nature of Manning’s imprisonment — solitary confinement is torture, and denying prisoners necessary medical treatment is a crime against humanity. I object to its absurd duration. I believe some of the material she leaked was in the public interest.

But I cannot object to the existence of a law prohibiting leaks, nor to her prosecution under such a law. She did commit an actual crime. I am happy that her sentence is being commuted and it is long overdue. But “Chelsea Manning did nothing wrong” cannot be true from the perspective of the state.

Manning did not review the information that she shared with Assange with any degree of due scrutiny; indeed, it was impossible for her to do so, because she lacked sufficient expertise in the subject matter to tell the difference between material that was properly and improperly classified. And much of the information that she leaked easily met the bar for classification. This includes the many frank, full assessments of foreign leaders that US diplomats gave, as well as accounts of meetings with foreign governments that depended for their existence upon secrecy. An example of the latter were the cables that revealed the existence of discussions between the United States and China over contingency planning in the event of a North Korean collapse. The public benefits immensely from such talks, but the talks would not have happened had Beijing not been assured of their secrecy.

Indeed, much of the work of the US diplomatic corps over the past six years has been repairing the damage caused by the leakage of properly classified material by Wikileaks. It turns out that corrupt autocrats don’t like it when US diplomats point out (in secret) that they are, in fact, corrupt autocrats. And as such, it is simply incredible to claim that Chelsea Manning “did nothing wrong.” She caused significant damage to entirely laudable US (and international) foreign policy efforts. The best we can argue is that a) the good outweighs the ill, and in any case b) the circumstances of her detention are pointlessly inhumane. Manning’s own account of her wrongdoing, for me, shifts the balance of deliberation towards mercy, and I do agree that Obama has made the correct decision by commuting her sentence. A pardon, on the other hand, would go too far.

I also think that the folks at Lawfare get this one about right.

Industrial Espionage

[ 18 ] January 17, 2017 |
DDR economy-en.svg

Vectorized in Inkscape by User:Mysid; based on a CIA image ( Public Domain.


My latest at the Diplomat highlights some new work on the impact of industrial espionage:

States behave as if industrial espionage is important; developing countries undertake extensive efforts to steal from advanced countries, and advanced countries take steps to protect their advanced technology from theft. In the Cold War, for example, the United States developed and enforced an elaborate system of export controls designed to prevent advanced military and industrial technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets. Today, U.S. officials relentlessly complain about Chinese intellectual property theft, and China continues to steal IP.

But scholars have struggled to demonstrate much actual impact. Industrial espionage competes with domestic R&D, with potentially far reaching negative effects. Also, backwards economies often have trouble incorporating stolen technology into the industrial bases. The Soviet Union continuously had difficulty taking advantage of successful industrial espionage operation during the Cold War, with acquisitions often leading to technical dead-ends rather than sustained progress.

The new paper by Albrecht Glitz and Erik Meyersson suggests that, in at least some cases, industrial espionage works.


Vietnam’s Turn to the Sea

[ 4 ] January 15, 2017 |

By Olympus Ares – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


Latest at the Diplomat looks at how Vietnam has shifted its strategic interest to the sea:

Vietnam began to shift its strategic attention to the sea in the years following the Sino-Vietnam War. The inconclusive nature of that war, combined with a relatively amicable process of border delineation with China, convinced Hanoi that China would no longer pose a critical threat from the land. The People’s Army of Vietnam (VPA) held presumptive superiority over the armed forces of Laos and, following withdrawal, Cambodia, making those borders relatively safe, as well.

At the same time, Vietnam’s economic strategy developed in two directions that made a maritime focus appealing. First, Vietnam began to integrate itself more heavily into the global economy, making access to shipping a critical need. Second, Vietnam became increasingly interested in exploiting offshore resources, which required the defense of islands and other geographic features in the South China Sea.



[ 17 ] January 14, 2017 |
USS Forrestal, lead ship of her class of supercarriers

USS Forrestal By USN – Official U.S. Navy photo NH 97657-KN from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Public Domain

The second part of my piece on the CNAS “Future Foundry” project is now available:

Comparative context would be helpful. “Capability monocultures and an ever-dwindling variety of weapons systems, procured at higher prices and in lower quantities than ever before” isn’t “failure to adapt to global trends”; it is a global trend, not apparently dependent on the specifics of the U.S. defense industry or on U.S. defense procurement strategy. The United States, China, Russia, and the European Union are all spending more to field fewer front line systems, supporting fewer front-line soldiers and sailors.


Sanders FP Machine

[ 60 ] January 13, 2017 |

Matt Duss (left) appears at wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Long-time friend of the blog and occasional guest poster Matt Duss is making waves:

Bernie Sanders is adding some serious firepower to his Washington Senate operation as he heads into a year during which he’s expected to anchor both the liberal resistance to Trump and the fight to re-center the Democratic Party around his brand of economic populism. Sanders’ office has hired liberal activist and talk show host Ari Rabin-Havt, a veteran of Harry Reid’s office and Media Matters, to head up a new leadership outreach operation, and foreign policy wonk Matt Duss, most recently the president of the Foundation on Middle East Peace, as a foreign policy advisor. And joining Sanders’ Budget Committee staff as an investigator is former Wall Street Journal reporter Alicia Mundy, who has written extensively about the pharmaceutical industry, a focus for Sanders.

Foreign policy was something of an afterthought to Sanders’ 2016 effort, but he began to develop some infrastructure as the campaign went on. Indeed, the decision to not develop a strong FP critique of Hillary Clinton, precisely the strategy that had allowed Barack Obama to defeat her in ’08, was what made me think that Sanders had initially conceived of himself as an issue/protest candidate rather than a serious challenger. Looking to the future, however, it will be interesting to see how Sanders develops this infrastructure into a genuinely leftish foreign policy platform. Matt will have a very important role to play in that process.

But then Matt also DJed my wedding, and I’m not even married anymore.  So clearly he has a long track record of failure.

Reliable Expectations

[ 21 ] January 11, 2017 |

53855893Look, the last thing you want from a Presidential administration is a coherent, unambiguous position on relations with a fellow nuclear power:

And hey, all of those things have the benefit of being true (probably with the exception of Ukraine’s military response; there were serious escalation concerns that Kiev would have struggled to manage). The problem is that the guy at the top seems to have a different view on all of this than the guy he selected as his Secretary of State.  This matters if conflict develops between Russia and any of its neighbors; Moscow needs to have a firm sense of what the United States will do if it decides to eat more of Ukraine, or of the Baltics.

Bowl Mania “Victor”

[ 5 ] January 11, 2017 |
Chauveau -  - 03-11.png

Fables de La Fontaine by François Chauveau

A champion for our degraded times…

1 631 97.7
2 630 97.6
3 608 94.5
4 597 92.2
5 593 91.3
6* 584 89.1
6* 584 89.1
8 575 86.4
9 572 85.5
10 568 84.2

dlanoue3 should contact me regarding prize info; address on the far right sidebar…


[ 92 ] January 11, 2017 |

53855893I have little substantive to add to Scott’s post, beyond affirming his recommendation of Lawfare’s treatment. Josh Marshall also outlines what I think is a careful, judicious approach.

Regardless of the veracity of the claims (which originated from outside the US intelligence community), I think it’s fair to say that we’ll open the Trump administration with an unprecedented level of hostility between the President and the IC. One way to read this is deep concern on the part of the IC on just how compromised Trump may be; discussion of the leaks, and of Russian hacking efforts, works to reduce his policy latitude and minimize the degree of Russian influence.  Another way to read it is deep concern over the degree of his outreach to Russia; the leaks and the hacking work to prevent Trump from carrying out policies that he would otherwise prefer, but that the IC loathes.

There’s clearly a middle ground.  Trump sees the prospect for friendly relations with Russia because he’s done business with Russians before, because he has some personal admiration for Putin’s governance style, and because he shares some ideological priors with the Putin government. Those factors serve both as the foundation for Russian support during the election, and as the basis for potentially sketchy relations between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

An interpretation that strains credulity is the one we find on the pro-Russia right and the pro-Russia left; that the IC has manufactured these claims from whole cloth in order to discredit Trump and start a NEW COLD WAR.  In addition to running contrary to publicly available, non-IC evidence, this would go well beyond any precedent in the history of the US IC (and yes, this includes WMD, Operation Northwoods, COINTELPRO, etc.) as well as against what we know about current divisions in the US IC over the prospects of the Trump administration.  While not many in the IC see strong relations with Russia as a positive, there are big factions that see Flynn’s more kinetic approach to Islamic terrorism as a big plus.

I would also add that for the Department of Defense and the US defense industry, Russia is almost completely irrelevant to the NEW COLD WAR. Although Moscow has clearly displayed its effectiveness at non-military operations, and showed up more effectively than many (including myself) expected in Syria, Russia is not the major driver for defense innovation and defense expenditure.  If you want a bigger, more expensive US military, you talk China, and Trump has already demonstrated that he’s quite capable of driving tensions with Beijing.

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